What do you get when you take a pristine canyon hike and throw in 100-year old hotel ruins and an historic railroad? You get Rattlesnake Gulch – your cure for the common hike. This mini-adventure through time will engage both your body and mind. It’s unlike any hike in Boulder County and it’s waiting for you. Read on for your guide to this Eldorado Canyon gem.
In the early 1900’s, when Eldorado Springs was known as the “Coney Island of the West,” Rattlesnake Gulch Trail was an old wagon road known as Crags Boulevard. The Crags Hotel was built at the top of this road, offering relaxation, recreation, and entertainment in an unparalleled setting.
Opened in 1908, the Crags Hotel could be accessed by foot, burro, tramway, or train.
The train, via the Union Pacific’s “Moffat Road” rail line, ran from Denver to Eldorado Springs. A round trip ride (including park entrance fee) was $1.25. The line still operates today as the Denver & Rio Grande Route, extending to Winter Park and beyond.
Hotel guests ranged from vacationing Denverites to tuberculosis patients seeking dry mountain air. The days were filled with invigorating hikes and scenic views while the nights brimmed with dancing, live music, and poker. In spite of all this, the once thriving hotel hit hard times in 1912 and mysteriously burned down in the middle of the night. Historians have long suspected that the fire was set to collect insurance money, but this was never proven. There was no attempt to rebuild and remnants of the hotel’s foundation, fireplace, and fountain still remain.
This moderate hike is 3.8 miles round trip with approximately 1,400 feet of elevation gain. It’s most easily accessed from the Rattlesnake Gulch Trailhead, located 0.6 miles west of the Eldorado Canyon State Park entrance. A daily park pass is $8. If you wish to avoid the park pass, Rattlesnake Trail may also be reached from the Fowler Trail Access Point within the City of Boulder, but this adds about 2 miles each way.
As always, please check for temporary closures before heading out.
From the Rattlesnake Gulch Trailhead, begin hiking east to the junction with Fowler Trail. You’ll pass by the incredible rock formation known as the Bastille. At this junction, take the hairpin right turn to remain on Rattlesnake Gulch. From here, the trail begins winding up the mountainside more steeply. At 1.2 miles, you’ll reach the site of the old Crags Hotel.
Take some time to read the interpretive sign and explore the remnants of this era gone by. The brick fireplace still has an old metal pot hanging from it. The fountain, once a central meeting place, is eerily quiet and empty. The crumbling foundation is slowly being reclaimed by nature. Please adhere to the tenets of Leave No Trace so that this site may be enjoyed for another hundred years and more.
From the hotel site, follow the sign toward the Rattlesnake Gulch Loop / Continental Divide Overlook. It’s not the grandest overlook in Boulder County, but it’s a nice view and an excellent place to stop for a snack. Take the short spur to the overlook and then backtrack to the loop when you’re ready.
Back at the loop, turn right to continue. Shortly thereafter, the trail begins turning east and rising up toward the railroad tracks. At 2.2 miles and 7,060 feet, you’ll reach the top of the loop with the tracks in plain view. If you’re lucky, you may be able to watch a passing train while you’re there.
From the highest point, the trail turns sharply to the north and descends to the junction where the loop began. At the bottom of the loop, turn right to return the way you came.
It’s important to note that this aptly named trail is, in fact, an area known for rattlesnake activity. When hiking in warmer months, use caution. If you’re not inclined to take any risks, do this hike in the winter when rattlesnakes are hibernating. Wear traction in colder months as this trail does get icy.
Happy holidays — and trails, Boulderites!
Photo credit: Alli Fronzaglia — all rights reserved